Early draft primer: Miami Dolphins

Let’s be honest: Playoff chances are virtually over for three teams in the AFC East.

The New York Jets (3-6), Miami Dolphins (4-6) and Buffalo Bills (4-6) already have played their way out of contention in 2012. Unless one of these teams can run the table -- which is a very long shot -- this trio will be sitting at home again come playoff time.

So this is the first of many chances to begin talking about the offseason and NFL draft. We begin our early draft primer series with Miami.


Key free agents: LT Jake Long, CB Sean Smith, RB Reggie Bush, WR Brian Hartline, DT Randy Starks

2013 Draft picks: Nine

Biggest needs: WR, CB, TE, RB, S

Early forecast: The Dolphins will be one of the league’s most interesting teams in the offseason. Miami has plenty cap space and draft picks to be a major player. However, the Dolphins also have many tough decisions to make with their own players. Long was once the top left tackle in football, but his play has dropped the past two years. Should Miami break the bank to make Long the highest-paid lineman in the NFL? Smith plays the premium position of cornerback, but has been inconsistent. Some team will pay the unrestricted free agent. But is he worth $30-$40 million to Miami? Bush is a leader, but his season has gone downhill. Hartline and Starks seem like the only no-brainers to re-sign. General manager Jeff Ireland has a tough job ahead of him, but a lot of assets at his disposal. That includes cap space and five draft picks in the first three rounds. The Dolphins have clearly defined needs. But those priorities could change if Miami doesn’t re-sign its key, in-house free agents.

Early possible targets: WR Keenan Allen, Cal; CB Dee Milliner, Alabama; OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (if Jake Long bolts)